By Paul Grein
It was a given that the Person of the Year concert and dinner honoring Barbra Streisand would be a memorable musical evening, but who knew the night would contain so many surprises?
Like Prince making a surprise appearance to present the award to "the woman of the hour, the MusiCares Person of the Year, the one and only Barbra Streisand."
Like Stevie Wonder making a personal reminiscence before playing his version of "People" with jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. ("When I was about 12 years old, I said she could be my girlfriend because she sounds so good.")
Like the producers screening the video for Duck Sauce's international dance club hit "Barbra Streisand" and Streisand seeming to get a kick out of the loopy, left-field hit.
Like Streisand capping the evening with not just a few songs, as expected, but a generous set, which included "Make Someone Happy" from her current GRAMMY-nominated album Love Is The Answer, and a dramatic version of "Windmills Of Your Mind" from her upcoming album of songs written by her friends Marilyn and Alan Bergman.
The Person of the Year concert and dinner, which was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Feb. 11, is the principal fundraiser for MusiCares, which gives music people a place to turn in times of financial, medical and personal need. The event is in its 21st year.
There was a lot of "Glee" in this year's program. New cast member Darren Criss opened the concert fronting the hit TV program's show-choir group the Warblers on an a cappella version of "What Kind Of Fool." Lea Michele, who has said her favorite material to sing on the show is “anything Barbra,” sang "My Man." Matthew Morrison and Kristin Chenoweth performed Streisand's inspired coupling of "One Less Bell To Answer" and "A House Is Not A Home." Streisand later noted, "My niece recently watched a DVD of Funny Girl for the first time and asked me why I was singing songs from 'Glee.'"
The show brought together the various facets of Streisand's musical personality: a few pop hits, several Broadway songs and a few jazz-shaded performances. Diana Krall, who produced Love Is The Answer, represented the jazz side with "Down With Love," which Streisand recorded in 1963. Herbie Hancock teamed with young vocalist Nikki Yanofsky on "On A Clear Day You Can See Forever," which blended into "Lazy Afternoon." In one of the night’s most ambitious performances, BeBe Winans teamed with LeAnn Rimes and Jeff Beck on "Come Rain Or Come Shine."
Seal was especially well-suited to the lilting rhythms of "Guilty." (He should record it. It sounds like a hit.) Faith Hill was impressive on Sondheim's "Send In The Clowns." Leona Lewis offered Streisand's power ballad version of "Somewhere."
Tony Bennett sang a tender version of "Smile," a song that he and Streisand recorded for his album Duets: An American Classic. Barry Manilow sang "Memory" from "Cats." He recalled that he and Streisand both had hits with the song, even though "neither one of us knows what the heck the lyric means."
Bill Maher spoke about Streisand the citizen. President Bill Clinton sent a video in which he spoke fondly of his friend. Fran Drescher told a funny story about a backstage mix-up.
But Streisand's show-capping performance stole the show. She performed all or part of such signature hits as "Happy Days Are Here Again," "The Way We Were" and "Evergreen" as well as such less obvious choices as "Finally Found Someone."
In her remarks, she also quoted author and poet Hans Christian Andersen: "Where words fail, music speaks." On this night, it spoke eloquently.